BULBS FOR SUMMER
Once the last daffodil has died down, don't let your bulb display stop. Dozens of bulbs flower spectacularly right through summer, keeping you in dazzling flowers until well into autumn.
Plant as you would spring bulbs, burying them to three times their depth in crumbly, moisture-retentive but free-draining soil. If yours isn't perfect, dig in organic matter first (we have well-rotted farmyard manure in our Mullingar garden centre) and add a handful of slow-release fertiliser like bonemeal.
Plant our top ten summer bulbs from the range in our garden centre for a summer that's spectacular from end to end.
Allium: ornamental onions make explosions of colour dotted through the border, with ramrod-straight spherical flowerheads.
Recommended varieties: 'Globemaster', 'Purple Sensation'
Agapanthus: the African lily is one of the truest blues you'll find, and their huge heads are a spectacular sight.
Recommended varieties: 'Bressingham Blue', 'Back in Black'
Dahlias: handsome plants with dozens of flower forms: whether you like spider, pompom or single-flowered, you'll find them in our garden centre. Recommended varieties: 'Bishop of Llandaff', 'David Howard'
Lilies: heavily-scented oriental lilies have huge, heavily-perfumed blooms. Other types include hardy Asiatic lilies and pretty martagon types.
Recommended varieties: Lilium regale, Lilium martagon.
Begonias: if it's waterfalls of flowers you want – look no further. Tuberous begonias tumble over container edges in a mass of bloom.
Recommended varieties: 'Champagne', 'Angelique'.
Gladioli: tall and sophisticated, gladioli are in fact easy to grow, with spires of huge, intensely-coloured flowers.
Recommended varieties: 'Green Star', Gladiolus communis subsp. byzantinus.
Acidanthera murielae: another showstopper in the border. Tall, scented and perfect for cutting, its graceful white flowers have purple hearts.
Iris: bearded irises are so aristocratic they have their own language of falls, standards and beards. Don't worry: they're all sumptuous.
Recommended varieties: 'Jane Phillips', 'Superstition'.
Cannas: hot and tropical brilliant orange, vermilion or yellow cannas have paddle-like leaves which can be as colourful as the flowers.
Recommended varieties: 'Durban', 'Wyoming'.
- Galtonia candicans: stately pure-white spires of bell-like flowers erupt gracefully in mid-summer, reaching up to 1 metre tall.
Please ask the staff in our Mullingar garden centre for more information and advice about choosing and growing summer bulbs.
PLANNING THE WINTER VEGTABLE GARDEN
Canny vegetable gardeners start thinking about what to grow next winter as soon as the last one is finished. Take time out from the spring rush to think about what you'll grow in the coldest months of the year and you'll reap the rewards in fat cabbages, nutty Brussels sprouts and kale when there's little else around to pick.
The range of veg you can enjoy in winter is extraordinary, and from late spring onwards you'll find a huge variety on sale as plug plants and seeds in your favourite garden centre. Look out for delicacies like long-cropping 'Dwarf Green Curled' kale, burgundy 'Rubine' sprouts, pretty red 'Rhubarb' chard or knobbly gourmet root vegetable Celeriac 'Prinz'.
Winter veg plants often take a long time to grow, so get winter brassicas, leeks, parsnips, swede and celeriac in the ground from late spring. Faster growing chard, winter spinach and salads can wait till August: sow to follow on from potatoes or onions to keep your veg garden productive year-round.
A time-honoured way of keeping slow-growing brassicas out of the way while you enjoy earlier crops is a nursery bed. This is a separate area – often a raised bed or cold frame – for sowing rows of brassicas direct. Thin seedlings as they grow, then in June dig them up and transplant into beds just vacated by early broad beans, peas or lettuces.
If you haven't room for a nursery bed, you can still grow early crops in between generously-spaced brassicas like Brussels sprouts plants, usually sown around 60cm apart. While they're still small, use the space between the seedlings for an extra crop of carrots, salads, spinach or beetroot. The faster crop will be out of the ground well before the brassicas are big enough to overshadow them, giving you twice the crop from the same amount of space.
Please ask the staff in our Mullingar garden centre for more information and advice about planning a winter vegetable garden
SQUARE FOOT VEG GARDEN
Short of space in the garden? Then this is the technique for you. All you need is a single raised bed to enjoy a wide variety of fruit and veg all year round. Here's how:
Build your raised bed: a raised bed: 1.2m x 1.2m gives you 16 squares – and with one type of veg in each, that's quite a range of home-grown produce to pick. Ready-made raised beds, available from your favourite garden centre, click together in moments for instant results.
Find the right spot: choose your sunniest corner for your square-foot veg garden. Place it on bare soil, or turf: you can even put your raised bed on concrete, though drill drainage holes to let excess water run off.
Fill your bed with compost: a 50:50 mix of multipurpose compost and a soil-based mix like John Innes no. 3 is ideal for growing veg: you'll find both in your favourite garden centre. Fill the bed level with the top and then firm down gently.
Mark out the squares: you can do this with string attached to nails in the sides of your raised bed, or by tying together a grid of canes. Either way, your squares should measure 30cm x 30cm each.
Plant your veg: sow one type of veg into each square, at slightly closer spacings. One square foot holds four 'Cos' type lettuces; a tomato plant; 16 leeks; four dwarf French beans or 16 carrots. Taller plants grow better at the back; smaller ones get more light at the front.
Keep the harvest coming: as soon as you harvest from one of your squares, replace the crop with fresh plug plants bought ready-grown from your favourite garden centre, or raised from seed. You should be picking a dazzling array of veg from your square-foot garden from early summer through till spring.
Please ask the staff in our Mullingar garden centre for more information and advice about a square foot vegetable garden.
TOP TIPS FOR SOWING VEGTABLES
Most vegetables are raised from seed, making them fantastic value – for the price of a single lettuce bought in the shops, you can buy a packet of seed to grow 1000. That's reason enough to grow your own: but you'll find sowing seed is also hugely satisfying as the first tiny sprouts appear, with their promise of bumper crops to come.
Growing from seed is straightforward but there are a few things to remember as you crack open that first packet and get sowing. Here are our top tips for seed-sowing success:
- Use good-quality seed compost: you'll find sterilised (so disease-free) and finely-textured John Innes formula seed composts in our garden centre.
- Prepare seedbeds well if you're sowing direct outside: remove weeds and large stones and rake soil thoroughly so it's the texture of breadcrumbs.
- Don't sow too thickly: overcrowded seedlings are more prone to fungal disease and struggle to compete for water and nutrients, so space seed well apart.
- Sow at the right depth: as a rule, bury seeds to twice their diameter – for small seeds, that's a light sprinkling of compost.
- Follow the instructions on the seed packet: they're mines of information, with handy tips and guidance on spacing, sowing depth and germination temperatures.
- Cover pots and trays after sowing so the seeds never dry out: clear polythene secured with an elastic band or a clear propagator cover does nicely.
- Water drills before sowing: if the weather is dry, really drench the drill before you sow, so seeds are sitting on damp soil from the start.
- Wait till it's warm enough as seeds have specific temperature ranges within which they germinate. Most need at least 10°C though carrots and lettuce come up a little cooler, at 7°C
- Use tap water for seedlings under cover, as saved rainwater often carries water-borne fungal diseases.
Please ask the staff in our garden centre i Mullingar for more information and advice about tips for sowing vegetables.
When you're just starting out, full of enthusiasm and keen to get going, it can seem an age to wait before you pick the first fruits of all your hard work. And it's true that some crops, like purple-sprouting broccoli or parsnips, can take all year to mature to harvesting stage – mind you, it's well worth the wait.
Luckily there are loads of fantastic quick-crop vegetables to grow and eat while the slowcoaches are getting going, so sow these and you'll have plenty to harvest in the meantime. This is fast food with flavour, freshly-harvested produce which arrives on your table within as little as a fortnight after sowing.
- Beetroot: young beetroot leaves have beautiful colouring and a richly earthy flavour just like the roots. Pick them from about four weeks after sowing, then after eight weeks pull the tender baby roots at golfball size. Fastest-growing varieties: 'Kestrel', 'Red Hawk'
- Radish: The quickest results on the plot, with seedlings showing in days and perfect, spherical roots in three weeks. Pick young and re-sow half a row every few weeks for a constant supply. Fastest-growing varieties: 'Cherry Belle', 'French Breakfast'.
- Rocket: The name gives it away – scatter seeds and you'll have peppery baby leaves for your plate within a fortnight. Sow when it's cool or it'll bolt (mind you, the flowers taste lovely, too). Fastest-growing varieties: 'Sky Rocket', 'Voyager'.
- Spinach: Treat spinach as baby leaves for salads and you can harvest them within around three weeks from sowing. They last ages – you can expect to pick over each plant five or six times. Fastest-growing varieties: 'Galaxy', 'Nagano'.
- Turnips: The best-kept secret on the veg patch, turnips give you a double harvest. Pick leafy green tops from three weeks after sowing, or pull the delicately-flavoured roots at golfball size at just five weeks old. Fastest-growing varieties: 'Tokyo Cross', 'Snowball'.
Please ask the staff in our Mullingar garden centre for more information and advice about speedy veg.
SOWING AND GROWING ANNUAL HERBS
Big pots of leafy, flavoursome and generous annual herbs sat just outside the back door where you can reach out and pick them for your cooking are one of the delights of the kitchen garden. When you grow your own, you can have as big a bunch of parsley as you want: and even better, you can try more unusual herbs like caraway, summer savory, dill and chervil.
Here's how to make sure you have pots and pots of flavour from one end of the year to the next:
- Sow little and often so you've always got a new tray of seedlings ready in the wings to take over once the previous crop finishes. Plant half a row, or a new container once a month from March to September for year-round flavour.
- Keep parsley in the shade, as if you let it get too hot and dry it'll quickly flower and run to seed. Pretty aniseed-flavoured chervil, looking a little like cowparsley, is another plant that likes cool, shady conditions.
- Pick leaves frequently as it encourages fresh growth. Basil, parsley, and coriander all flower if left to grow unchecked, which turns the leaves bitter. Keep the sweet, fragrant young foliage coming by nipping out the tips for cooking every few days.
- Sow coriander where it's to grow as it hates being transplanted. If you haven't got a spot in the garden, just sow the large, round seeds directly into a trough or generous container to grow into a fountain of lush, spicily scented greenery for flavouring Asian cookery and salads.
- Make a late sowing to bring indoors in around September, and you'll have fresh herbs to pick from the kitchen windowsill all through winter. Parsley and basil are perfect for this: pick them sparingly and they should keep going till spring.
Please ask the staff in our Mullingar garden centre for more information and advice about sowing and growing annual herbs.
KEEPING THE CROPS COMING
One of the real skills of good vegetable growing is the ability to time the cycle of sowing, growing and harvesting so you always have a steady stream of goodies to pick fresh from your garden in Mullingar.
It takes good planning and a few canny tricks to make sure you always have just the right amount to pick, ready when you want it, every month of the year. Here are our top tips to help you keep the crops coming.
- Sow often: sow everything at once and you'll have loads to pick in a few weeks' time – but once you've finished, your veg-growing year is over.
- You can sow seed successfully from March until July, so make the most of it and stagger your sowings, putting in a new batch every three to four weeks right across the season. That way you always have some crops ready to pick, some growing on and some just sown, and you'll extend your harvest right into autumn.
- Don't sow too much: sow a whole row of lettuces, and they'll all be ready at the same time – and that's a lot of lettuce. Plant six lettuces every three weeks, though, and you'll have two lettuces to eat every week for as long as you want them, as your next crop is ready just as you finish eating the first.
- And there's no rule that says you have to sow a whole row, either: half a row of carrots, beetroot or salad leaves, sown direct every three or four weeks, gives you a much more manageable quantity.
- Sow different varieties: many vegetables come in early, mid-season and late varieties, meaning they mature at different rates. That's a gift for you when you're trying to spread your harvest over a long time. Early carrots like 'Nantes 2', for example, crop in about eight weeks. Plant one row of these plus one row of a maincrop variety like 'Autumn King' – ready in 10 weeks – and you'll be picking carrots for an extra fortnight. The same technique works for potatoes, beetroot, potatoes, calabrese and sprouts.
- Grow long-cropping vegetables: choose your veg types carefully, making the most of veg which give you pickings over a long period.
- Cut-and-come-again lettuces, like 'Salad Bowl', are invaluable: you pick them leaf by leaf and they just keep giving for months on end. Calabrese, too, is a great long-cropping vegetable: once you've cut the main central head, the stem keeps producing smaller sideshoots giving you a second and third harvest.
- Use your spare spots: when a spot comes free in the garden, plant it up right away. Plug plants are ideal for this: either grow your own or buy them ready-to-plant from your favourite garden centre.
- You can make the most of the space underneath larger, slower-growing plants like big, hefty Brussels sprouts, too. Sow a row of baby-leaf salads between your newly-planted sprouts plants and you can pick and eat them long before the Brussels get big, doubling the harvest from the same space.
Please ask the staff in our Mullingar garden centre for more information and advice about keep the crops coming.
ANNUAL CUTTING GARDENS
Filling your house with the colour and fragrance of fresh flowers cut from the garden is one of the great pleasures of gardening. The trouble is, though, if you take all the flowers from the garden, there's nothing left to look at outside.
The answer is to create yourself a cutting garden – an area of your garden dedicated to raising flowers to enjoy indoors. The whole purpose of such a garden is to be harvested regularly, rather like a vegetable garden, so you don't mind if it's sometimes got a few bare patches.
You'll find all you need to create your cutting garden in our garden centre in Mullingar. Here's how to go about it:
- Find the right spot: you'll need somewhere in full sun, as your plants will only flower to their full potential with plenty of light. Planting densely also demands a lot from your soil, so choose the best-quality patch you've got.
Get ready: before you start, dig over the area, removing weeds and large stones, and work in plenty of well-rotted farmyard manure. Then put in hedging and edging: you'll find plants for low hedging in our garden centre, and materials to lay a smart path.
- Choose your plants: select 'hardy annual' seeds from the range in our garden centre. Great choices are white, frothy Ammi majus, Cosmos bipinnatus with lovely daisy-like flowers and of course sweetpeas to train up a wigwam in the centre.
Start sowing: Sow your flowers from March onwards just like vegetables, in straight lines to make picking them easier. Make shallow drills and sprinkle the seed sparingly along the bottom. Cover with a little soil, label and leave.
- Keep the display going: sow little and often so you've got some plants to pick, some coming up to flowering and some just sown. Support taller varieties like larkspur by sticking canes in each corner of the row and threading round string at intervals up the height of the plants.
Please ask the staff in our Mullingar garden centre for more information and advice about planting an annual cutting garden.
SEEDS AND CUTTINGS
GROWING FROM CUTTINGS
Cuttings fall into three main groups, but whichever method you use it is essential that cuttings are taken from healthy plants:
- Taking hardwood cuttings is one of the easiest ways to produce new plants of Salix (willow),
- Deutzia and many other woody shrubs, and only needs secateurs.
- From autumn to early spring, select shoots produced the pre-vious spring and summer. Only select strong growth and remove near its base or point of origin.
- These shoots – about the thick-ness of a pencil and 23–25cm long – should be cut square below a bud to form a base, at an angle of 35 degrees.
- Treat the bottom 3cm of each cutting with rooting hormone.
- Insert the prepared cuttings into a 12–15cm trench made in well dug garden soil with a 5cm layer of sharp sand for drainage.
- Alternatively plant three or four cuttings in a pot of multi-purpose or cutting compost and place in a cold frame or sheltered part of the garden. The following autumn the rooted cuttings can be carefully planted out in their final growing positions.
- These are taken in early to late spring to grow many semi-ten-der plants such as pelargoniums and fuchsias, herbaceous plants and some alpines. Young growth on shrubs such as Rosmarinus (rosemary), Artemisia (worm-wood) and Lavandula (lavender) may also respond well.
- In spring, remove shoots from the parent plant once they are firm enough to handle and not too soft to lose their rigidity.
- Using a sharp knife or secateurs, prepare the cutting by making a cut at an angle of 35 degrees at the base of the chosen shoot.
- Cuttings should be 5–10cm long according to plant variety. If the leaves are alternate on the shoot, make the upper cut four leaf joints above the first cut.
- If the leaves are opposite, make the cut above the second pair of leaves. In both cases make cuts from the buds in the leaf joint.
- Gently remove the lower leaves. If the remaining leaves are more than 3cm long, halve them with a knife, to cut down moisture loss during the pre-rooting period.
- Dip the bottom 3cm of the pre-pared cutting into water. Shake off the surplus then roll the bottom 2.5cm in rooting hormone.
- Insert cuttings into seed trays or pots containing sharp sand.
- Place the tray or pot into a propagator – preferably one with a heating control.
- Close all vents and shade the cover with a newspaper. After 7–10 days, open the vents and remove the shading.
- Once the cuttings make new shoots at the leaf joints, this is a good indication that rooting has taken place. Remove the tray or pot from the propagator.
- When new growth on the rooted cuttings reaches more than 3cm long, pot them into individual pots of general potting compost.
- In four to six weeks they should be large enough to plant in their final growing positions, provided all risk of frost has passed.
- Semi-ripe cuttings of many shrubs and climbers can be taken in late spring to midsummer. Success is not guaranteed but it’s worth a try.
- The method or preparation is the same as for softwood cuttings, but use shoots from the current season’s growth that have begun to firm.
- The use of a propagator is more important and the availability of controllable heat will enhance the success rate. Rooting is slower than softwood cuttings but once new growth has reached 3cm the cuttings can be potted on into individual pots.
- Grow young plants on in a frost free light-protected environment such as a greenhouse or garden frame with no additional heat. Plant out in the garden or into larger pots the following spring or autumn.
When you're happily beavering away in the veg garden over summer, it can seem like the long days of abundant flowers and fruit will never end. But one day, inevitably, you cut the last pumpkin and pull up the bean plants and it is, undeniably, winter.
There's no need to stop enjoying your plot just because the weather has turned cold, though. Embrace winter as part of your veg-growing year and you'll find your patch can be as productive from November to February as it is for the rest of the year.
You'll need to begin planning in early spring, as these are plants which need a long time in the ground. Start by choosing some of the great winter veg we offer as seeds or plug plants in our Mullingar garden centre: here's our pick of the best.
Parsnips: sow fresh seed direct into the ground: the sweet, pale roots taste better after being kissed by frost.
Recommended varieties: 'Tender and True', 'Gladiator'.
Cabbages: super-hardy savoys have fabulous flavour and texture: follow with crunchy spring cabbages for an April treat.
Recommended varieties: 'January King', 'Duncan' (spring cabbage).
Brussels sprouts: plant early, mid-season and late varieties to pick fat sprouts from September to February.
Recommended varieties: 'Trafalgar', 'Rubine'.
Celeriac: knobbly roots with the fine flavour of celery but much easier to grow: keeps well, too.
Recommended varieties: 'Prinz', 'Monarch'.
Kale: if you want an easy-to-grow cabbage substitute, pick young kale leaves for a taste sensation.
Recommended varieties: 'Dwarf Green Curled', 'Cavolo Nero'.
Winter salads: sow spicy winter baby-leaf mixes under cloches, or pick from the new range of Japanese salads.
Recommended varieties: Mizuna, Mustard 'Red Frills'.
Chard: sow in September and you'll be picking spinach-like chard all winter. Protect with cloches in bad weather.
Recommended varieties: 'Rhubarb', 'Swiss Chard'.
Leeks: ramrod straight leeks are as hardy as anything: plant seedlings deeply for long white shanks.
Recommended varieties: 'Musselburgh', 'Bleu de Solaise'.
Rhubarb: force clumps of big, beefy rhubarb for tender pink stems from February onwards.
Recommended varieties: 'Timperley Early', 'Victoria'.
Please ask the staff in our garden centre in Mullingar for more information and advice about growing winter vegetables
A CONTAINER VEGTABLE GARDEN
You may be short of outdoor space, but that doesn't mean you have to do without home-grown vegetables. There are lots of veg which do brilliantly in containers, whether window boxes, grow bags, pretty terracotta pots or just tin cans nailed to a fence.
Growing in containers has many advantages: perfect soil, easy planting and your crops are kept well out of reach of slugs. These days, there are lots of innovative new ideas around to help you get started: look out for wall-hung vertical planters, automatic watering systems and even special varieties of veg bred for growing in pots, all available from your favourite garden centre in Mullingar.
There's a huge range of veg you can try in containers, from herbs and salad leaves to tomatoes, chard, beetroot and even climbing French beans trained up against a wall. Just follow our five golden rules for a summer of plenty from your patio.
1.Use the largest containers you can
The more room veg roots have, the happier they'll be (you can pack more veg in to larger pots, too!) So always buy the biggest containers you have room for.
2.Water, water, water
Plants in pots are completely reliant on you for water supplies. Water container-grown veg every day – twice a day in hot spells.
3.Feed, feed, feed
After the first six to eight weeks compost runs out of nutrients, so add weekly liquid feeds to your watering routine.
4.Re-sow fast-growing crops every month
Keep picking continuously by sowing new containers of fast-growing salads, herbs, and quick crops like beetroot and turnips once a month.
5.Choose the right varieties
Look for the words 'container veg' or 'patio veg' on seed packets: special varieties like Courgette 'Patio Star' and Aubergine 'Ophelia' will crop brilliantly in pots.
Please ask the staff in our Mullingar garden centre for more information and advice about a container vegetable garden.
A TASTE OF HISTORY
Sometimes in veg-growing, as in life, the golden oldies are the best.
Older 'heritage' veg varieties aren't often found in the shops, as they aren't uniformly shaped, sometimes don't store or travel well, and are difficult to harvest mechanically. That means the only way to enjoy their sumptuous flavours, colours and textures is if you grow your own.
Here are five of the best old-style veg to look out for in your favourite garden centre in Mullingar and try in your own garden: we promise you won't be disappointed.
- Runner bean 'Painted Lady' has been grown since at least the 1850s. It's prized for its bicoloured red and white blooms, pretty enough to be grown in the ornamental garden. The flowers are followed by a heavy crop of delicious long, flattened green beans.
- Broad bean 'Crimson Flowered' was rescued from extinction in 1978 thanks to an elderly gardener from Kent. The rest is history: its gorgeous deep red flowers are now seen, and admired, in gardens all over the country.
- Kale 'Cavolo Nero', also known as Black Tuscan kale, came to our shores in 1860 on board Thomas Cook's ship. It was originally grown as an ornamental for its extraordinarily long, puckered black foliage, but we know different: pick the full-flavoured leaves young and cook like cabbage.
- Tomato 'Marmande' is a sumptuously flavoured beefsteak variety from France, making huge fist-sized fruits. They're lumpy and bumpy, and prone to splitting - but it's worth it for one taste of that superb, rich flavour, the perfect balance of sweet and sharp.
- Squash 'Turks Turban' was brought to the UK from America in 1869 and gets its name from its extraordinary shape – a doughnut-like lower layer with a 'hat' on top. It's orange, but striped cream and green: like nothing you've ever grown before (it has a great flavour, too!)
Please ask the staff in our Mullingar garden centre for more information and advice about a taste of history.